Maryland baseball has concluded its weekend out-of-conference play. Looming ahead are series against teams in the Big Ten. How has Maryland fared so far and what are its post-season prospects? The answer to that depends on whether you’re a glass-half-full or glass-half-empty person.
The pundits’ preseason expectations for the Terps were not optimistic. This was due in large part to the number of departures after the 2018 season ended; numerous Terps were either drafted or finishing out their career. Head coach Rob Vaughn was left with a thin number of position players who had any experience at the D1 collegiate level. Vaughn and his staff did an admirable job filling in the holes, mainly through junior college transfers but also by asking players to take on new positions in the field. So it’s not surprising that this team is still a work in progress, as shown by the number of different lineups used already.
Currently the Terps have an 12-11 record, with the anomaly of having a much better record on the road than at home. In fact, the Terps already have two road series victories, at Stetson and Elon, respectively. In midweek games the Terps currently stand at 5-0, a remarkable turnaround from previous years’ midweek travails.
The biggest culprit in Maryland’s losses has been the bats. After starting off the year fairly hot, a number of players have collectively gone into slumps. The team’s .232 batting average is below last year’s .243, and Maryland ranks second in the Big Ten in strikeouts. Of the Terrapin starters, only Taylor Wright’s average is near .300, at .297.
Wright’s bat has been the most consistent on the team, with his average up nearly 70 points above last year, and his 10 doubles, already more than his 2018 total, currently landing him atop the Big Ten. Caleb Walls, who had a rough start to the season, is now batting .268 and he has the team’s highest on-base percentage. Maxwell Costes has shown signs of equaling or even surpassing his brother, posting a .279/.411/.453 line with three homers and 19 RBIs.
The overall lack of hitting, though, hurt the team’s chances of winning the series down in Lafayette, Louisiana, as well as getting swept at home by East Carolina and Creighton.
While the hitting has been exasperating, the pitching is much improved over 2018. The number of quality arms available has been considerably increased, despite Maryland losing junior Tyler Blohm for possibly the rest of 2019. The weekend rotation of Hunter Parsons, Zach Thompson, and Trevor LeBonte has been consistently good. Parsons has pitched deep into games every start, and with one exception has always kept the Terps ahead or within striking distance of the lead.
The bullpen’s short list is taking shape. John Murphy has four saves in five opportunities. Freshmen Will Glock and Andrew Vail have shown they can be effective in late-game situations. Tuck Tucker threw a gem in a midweek game against Elon. And probably the most improved pitcher is junior Elliot Zoellner. “The Fuzz” has a deceptively high era of 6.39, marred by a couple of early season appearances. But lately, he has shut opponents down, and the sidearm specialist has 19 strikeouts in just 12.2 innings of work.
So where does this all lead to? At present, the Terps have an RPI of 137. It will be difficult to get this number down into the 30s in order to be considered for an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament, but not impossible. Maryland has a couple of early Big Ten series against Indiana and at Illinois that could do much to help its postseason resume. However, the Terps will probably need to do well in conference play overall and make a deep run in the Big Ten tournament to get an NCAA regional bid.
Considering the surfeit of newcomers on the team, Maryland is probably where most people expected it to be at this juncture. Making the Big Ten tournament looks quite doable, and the Terps can still play their way into NCAA Tournament consideration. So, yes, the glass is half-full. And if the bats start to come around, then 2018 might become a distant memory.